Agenda is an Opportunity for Australia to Realise our Potential

This opinion article by Catherine Livingstone, President of the Business Council of Australia, was published in The Australian Financial Review on 8 December 2015, under the title 'New package a rare chance to innovate'.

The Innovation and Science Agenda released on Monday is ground-breaking in its recognition of core aspects of the system that underpins an innovation capable economy.

It recognises there is a system and that it is not something separable from the economy - the system is embedded in the economy, which is why it requires a whole-of-government approach and initiatives at scale to facilitate outcomes.

The agenda recognises the role of government in mobilising the individual elements of the system. This includes financial investment but more importantly, it includes government influencing innovation culture through leadership and signalling.

The government's role is also one of facilitation and co-ordination through careful policy design across the economy. The policy initiatives covered in the agenda recognise that innovation has both a demand side and a supply side, and that global megatrends have reshaped both.

On the supply side, it's people who innovate and the agenda includes initiatives to build our skills and talent. There are incentives to drive collaboration between researchers and business to increase translation, and measures to encourage early-stage investors and greater risk appetite.

On the demand side, the agenda includes initiatives that will see the government driving innovation by using procurement to become a more demanding customer.

The success of an innovation policy relies on the health of the economy as a whole. The initiatives just announced need to be supported by reforms to the tax system, the workplace relations system and the deregulation agenda, all of which are central to boosting Australia's innovation performance

Two weeks ago, the Australian Council of Learned Academies released its latest report titled Translating Research for Economic and Social Benefit.

The report finds that, to be fully effective, policies and programs related to innovation need to be part of a stable, national innovation strategy, administered by an independent agency.

On ACOLA's analysis, the history of innovation programs in Australia reflects an approach, which has been "fragmented, unco-ordinated and under-resourced".

The National Innovation and Science Agenda is an opportunity to reset this approach by detailing a four-year program that provides a basis for extension over the longer term. In this way, the agenda more appropriately matches the long lead times that characterise many elements of innovation, particularly related to research.

Given the strong package announced by the Labor Party last week, we now need the major parties to agree on significant policy detail to lock in the fundamentals. This requires bipartisan support for specific policy settings.

The government's National Innovation and Science Agenda represents more than a sum of its parts, and must be supported and implemented as a package. This is a rare opportunity to imagine our own future and work to realise our enormous potential as a nation.